The Discovery of the Mach Reflection Effect and Its Demonstration in an Auditorium

  • Peter KrehlEmail author
  • Martin van der Geest
Part of the Vienna Circle Institute Yearbook book series (VCIY, volume 22)


This paper examines the historical back­ ground leading to the discovery of the Mach reflection effect and applies original documents from Mach’s residue which are kept in the archives of the Ernst-Mach-Institut in Freiburg. Two experimental setups for the generation and demonstration of the Mach reflection effect, incorporating an overhead projector, are described: (i) Mach’s historic mechanical shock wave reflection and interaction experiments with soot covered glass plates, performed in 1875. The Mach triple points sharply erase the soot which results in a residual picture of funnel-shaped V-formations. The head-on collision of two shock waves is marked as a narrow line of piled-up soot. (ii) Caltech’s hydraulic jump reflection experiments in a shallow ripple tank, performed during World War II. Regular reflection and its transition into a Mach reflection wave. Using a slightly inclined tank and providing a “shoreline” in the middle of the tank, Mach stem propagation slows down to zero when hitting the shore line and, therefore, can be observed “live” without the use of a slow-motion technique.


Ernst Mach History of shock wave research Mach reflection Gas dynamic/hydraulic analogy 



The permission of the Musée Océanographique de Monaco for inspecting their comprehensive collection of publications on sea wave phenomena as well as the support of the Deutsches Museum, München for duplicating their Holtz machine is gratefully acknowledged. The Holtz machine was manufactured at EMI’s workshop by M. Fischer and W. Schöpflin.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ernst-Mach-lnstitut (EMI)FreiburgGermany
  2. 2.Department of Aerospace EngineeringTU DelftDelftThe Netherlands

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